1945 NSU Kettenkrad

Considerable care is necessary on steep slopes. The driver is flanked by the tracks and sits ahead of the engine; he’s not likely to escape if the vehicle flips

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The Kettenkrad was typical of vehicles designed and manufactured for the German Wehrmacht during WWII-innovative, well made, and generally superior to equipment used by their enemies. Designated “SdKfz 2” by the German army, the Kettenkrad was an ingenious half motorcycle, half tracked vehicle, hence its name-“ketten” meaning tracks, “krad” meaning Krafttrad, or motorcycle.

It was created by NSU designer Ernst Kniepcamp in 1939, after the Nazis had standardized industrial production and forced NSU out of the large motorcycle business. It was designed for German airborne forces as a light, multi-terrain, towing vehicle and was the only gun tractor small enough to fit inside the hold of the Junkers Ju 52 transport aircraft.

Steering was accomplished by turning the handlebars. If little movement was used then the wheel alone would steer the vehicle; however, if the bars were turned further, the track brakes would be engaged (just like a tank) to turn more sharply.

The handlebars had a twist-grip throttle, just like a motorcycle, but the transmission was car-type, incorporating a 3-speed gearbox and foot-operated clutch. There were high and low transmission ranges-“Gelande” (off-road) and “Strasse” (street)-for a total of six speeds. The engine was the super-reliable 1,478-cc inline water-cooled unit from the Opel Olympia car, also in use with the Wehrmacht.

The tracked system was very advanced, using roller bearings and padded tracks. This gave rise to an extraordinary top speed of 50 mph on road surfaces, although the instruction manual advised a maximum of 44 mph. In any event, it was the fastest tracked vehicle of WWII. Kettenkrads were used in almost every theater of the war and proved very reliable in all conditions, from the arctic Russian winter to the heat of the Western desert.

They were used to tow anti-tank guns as part of feared tank-busting teams, to tow ammunition trailers to the front line, to lay cables and ferry troops to difficult locations. Their excellent cross-country ability made them the last vehicles to bog down in the clinging Russian mud. Later in the war they were even used to tow Messerschmitt Me 262 jets up to the runways in an effort to save valuable aviation fuel.

In all, over 8,000 NSU Kettenkrads were produced, compared to over 600,000 Jeeps. However, as German army equipment was virtually wiped out at the end of the war, few have survived.

This 1945 NSU Kettenkrad was bought by the current owner from a collection in Germany, having been restored there in the late 1990s. It has been used regularly on the vendor’s farm over the years and performs just like it would have done in the war, coping with all types of terrain. The vehicle is offered without documents, though Kettenkrads can be registered and used on the public highway.

Paul Duchene

Paul Duchene - SCM Contributor

Paul grew up in England and has been riding, driving (and mostly writing about) cars and motorcycles since 1958, when he bought a 1939 James Autocycle for $5. He’s written for daily newspapers and magazines for 40 years, including the Chicago Tribune and New York Times, and has owned upwards of 200 cars and 30 motorcycles, most of which survived to be sold. His daily driver is a 1984 Cadillac Seville in Palomino Firemist, but on sunny days you’ll find him grinning over the windshield of a 1968 Siata Spring.

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